Flutist Shashank Charms in the Breach
The goal of “India in the Air” at the Getty Museum on Saturday night was specific: an exploration of the impact of Karnatic Indian classical music upon contemporary American composers.
It was an intriguing, if somewhat esoteric notion, since Indian music generally has had a more visible effect upon pop music and jazz. And the presence on the program of violinist L. Subramaniam, who has frequently worked in American jazz and pop, seemed to underscore that connection.
Subramaniam, however, had to cancel at the last minute “due to health reasons.” And with the shift of emphasis, the spotlight moved away from the interaction between classical, pop, jazz and Indian music and focused upon Shashank, a remarkable, 19-year-old South Indian flutist.
Relying for the most part upon relatively accessible ragas, and talas with easily heard sequences of three and four beats, Shashank swooped and curled around his melodies, his lines rich with vocalized ornamentation. Perhaps most fascinating of all, his youthful adventurousness combined with his already virtuosic technique to produce improvisations that pushed open the envelope of his music with a fiery curiosity characteristic of the best avant-garde jazz.
The program’s compositions were less captivating. Terry Riley’s “Mythic Bird Waltz for String Quartet” charmed with its vibrato-less, saxophone section-style harmonies. But Paul Dresher’s “Double Ikat for Solo Violin, Piano and Percussion” was filled with clattery sounds and industrial rhythms, achieving its Indian association only in the repetitious passages of the second movement.
And the West Coast premiere of Jack Jarrett’s “Offering/Pooja,” which verged dangerously close to Indian music parody in its composed sections, was notable primarily for the improvisatory contributions of Shashank’s ensemble.